As we all know, being productive isn’t easy and if you read my last post you’ll know exactly why it’s so difficult and why it’s not actually our fault. If you didn’t read the post please check it out because it’s a huge problem that affects all businesses and organisations.
Having highlighted just how difficult it is to be productive and why, here are 7 things you can do straight away to get more done with your precious time.
1. Set a timer
I do this all the time and am in fact doing this right now. Set the timer function (probably under the clock app) in your phone to 50 minutes. Add a sound alert and turn the phone face down on your desk. That way your attention won’t be pulled away if the face lights up because you’ve received a text or some other alert.
You now have 50 focused minutes to carry out your task.
Of course you need to set your mindset too to say that when the timer is going you won’t divert from the work that you need to do.
Once the 50 minutes are up stop what you’re doing as soon as you can, get up, walk away and take a break for 5 to 10 minutes. Movement will get your blood flowing again and doing something different like making a drink or getting some fresh air, will clear your mind.
Once your break is up get back to the task, reset the timer and dive into the next chunk of 50 minutes.
50 minutes is a good length of time and it’s amazing how quickly it goes and how much you can get done.
This tactic really helped me when writing my book, Your Business Foundation.
2. Plan your next day the night before
Use the last 30 minutes of your day to plan the next one. From a bigger picture perspective you should already know what you aim to achieve that week and month as they fit into your bigger strategy plan. But what specifically do you need to do the next day?
What must you complete? What must you make good progress on? What must you address? Identify your “must-dos” followed by other tasks that would be good to do.
Set this “next day preparation” task in your calendar to repeat with an alert each day.
By doing this you can better switch off when you finish work, relax and enjoy your evening.
3. Do your best work in the morning
Having set your key tasks the day before, you won’t get ready in the morning wondering what you should be doing – you’ll know. Start to think about that first task.
Stay focused – picture getting to work and getting on with that first priority and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by others until at least this first task is complete. (Or at a point where you intended to stop working on it.)
Most of us are at our most productive in the morning so if you get into the habit of thinking about this first task and on not allowing others to interrupt your time then you’re far more likely to get this intended first task done on time.
Having successfully done what you set out to do first, you’ll feel good (you’ll have received a deserved injection of dopamine) and energized to handle your other tasks.
4. Don’t open your email program
This nicely follows on from the previous tip. Most people check their emails first. By doing that their precious time is taken by others. No matter how trivial the email, your attention is focused on it and not on what you should be doing. If the email requires a response from you then someone else has well and truly taken your attention and time.
Even if you decide to respond later, your brain will know it’s there and keep switching you back to it. Research has shown that even knowing you have an unread email in your inbox or an unread text can cause your IQ level to drop 10 points.
So, don’t open your emails until your first task is done or until you’re taking a break from it and make sure your email program is closed, when you’re not checking or writing emails, so that you don’t receive alerts when a new one arrives.
5. Limit your time
Always give yourself a limit on how much time you’ll spend on a task.
“Parkinson’s law” says a task will fill the amount of time you have. If you want to lose a stone before your holiday in 6 months time you’ll take 6 months to lose it. If your holiday is in 6 weeks then you’ll do it in that time.
Limit your email time to say 30 minutes. When that time is up close the email program. This way, you’ll be focused on searching out or writing the important emails and then moving on to the next thing on your list.
Don’t do this and you’ll scroll through and open other emails out of curiosity (these are some of the shiny objects our brain loves that I talked about in the last post) and before you know it half your morning has gone.
I don’t open my email program until my first task of the day is done. In this case it’s writing this post. (Which I’ve scheduled to complete by 11am.) That means my email program isn’t usually opened until around 11am and only earlier if I need a particular email to do my work or need to send one.
If 30 minutes isn’t enough, make it slightly longer or better still schedule another email session later in the day, say after your first afternoon task is done.
6. Set clear expectations and deadlines
As well as limiting your own time make sure you set a limit on the time for tasks you delegate to others. Whether your own people or outsourced to external consultants or freelancers, make sure you have a deadline agreed.
If you don’t, you’ll end up chasing for the results of the work you’ve assigned and if this happens it’s not their fault it’s yours. If you don’t set a deadline you cannot be upset if a piece of work is delivered later than you expected.
Talking of expectations – make sure you have set clear expectations. Too often expectations are not clearly communicated and a task ends up taking longer to complete because the initial deliverable wasn’t up to scratch.
Other people’s productivity and standard of work will impact your own so make sure you are clear about what you need and when you need it.
7. Schedule your calendar
Schedule your key and regular work in your calendar. If you’re not fortunate enough to have a PA managing your time then doing this will really help you get the most from your day.
Set your regular tasks, colour-code them and set alerts if necessary. The colour coding will help you associate the colour with the task and more easily see when you have scheduled what. The alerts remind you that it’s time to start on that task.
Top CEO and heads of state don’t worry about their calendar and schedules. They have others to do that for them. This means they can focus on the task at hand, such as an important meeting, knowing that others will make sure the task (meeting) is brought to an end in time for the next scheduled task.
Doing this for your regular tasks will, in time, also help make them easier to get started – just like cleaning your teeth in the morning – you will just get on and do it.
Once you have blocked out your time in this way you will be able to better manage requests for meetings and for unexpected tasks because you’ll see where they can fit into your schedule with little impact on your planned work.
Make it happen
There are many more in addition to these 7 tips but these are a good start and can make a huge difference to your productivity.
But these won’t happen without you being determined to make them happen and disciplined enough to get started and stick with it.
As I showed in my last post, being productive is extremely hard and a lack of it can have a massive impact on a business regardless of whether it’s a large corporation or a single-person micro business.
I would go as far as to say that productivity is the equivalent of your biggest competitor – only hidden. At least you can see the potential damage that your biggest rival can make.
Implement these tips and, if you have them, have your people implement them too. Soon you’ll see just what a difference it can make and not just to how much you and your people get done. You’ll notice how much control and time you’ve taken back and how much better you feel because of it.
It’s a little after 10:30 and my timer has just alerted me that my 2nd set of 50 minutes is done – time for a cuppa.
If you think you and your people could be more productive then get the help you need to make it happen because the underlying impact on your business can be massive. Contact me to see how I can help.
Related posts you may have missed:
The average office worker is productive less than 3 hours a day. That’s less than 1 month a year. Checkout the maths.
Increase productivity and focus by limiting your available time.